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Joan Thomas 18 May at the Charles W. Stockey Centre

Joan Thomas 18 May at the Charles W. Stockey Centre

Joan Thomas continues the 2011 Reading Series with a reading from her most recent novel, Curiosity, at the Charles W. Stockey Centre on Wednesday 18 May at 7:30 pm.

It has been more than 150 years since the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. More than forty years earlier, in 1811, Miss Mary Anning, at only twelve years of age, discovered the first Ichthyosaurus skeleton to be correctly identified, in the fossil beds along the shore of Lyme Regis.

Mary grew up in poverty, several siblings died, as did her father at a young age. Mary, who polished the fossils she found and sold as “curiosities” to the tourists and fossil collectors who frequented the seaside town of Lyme Regis, was supporting the family at the age of twelve.

Mary was barely literate, but she was determined to learn as much about fossils as she could. She had a curious mind; an eccentric who cared little for propriety or the social restrictions of the time,  she was as much a “curiosity” as her fossils.

Although Mary Anning never entered the rooms of the Geographical Society of London, the skeletons that she had discovered caused a sensation, raising questions in scientific and religious circles.

The story of the life and work of Mary Anning is a compelling one and Joan Thomas has written a wonderful novel.

An earlier novel by Joan Thomas is also well worth a read. Reading by Lightning won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book in Canada and the Caribbean in 2009.

This novel is set on the Canadian Prairies in the 1930’s, where Lily Piper grows up in a small world in a big landscape. While still a girl she leaves the Prairies for a time, to return as a young woman.

Lily’s escape from the confines of the farm and her family becomes a time of great awakening. Lily’s parents were silent serious people – god-fearing. Living in England with relatives - cousins, an aunt and uncle and grandmother who know how to laugh, to enjoy life – is a revelation for Lily.

These are the years immediately before the beginning of World War II and Lily and her family hear the radio broadcast announcing that Great Britain has declared war on Germany. Unable to sail immediately to Canada Lily comes of age in England, before returning to Canada to care for her mother and to manage the farm for the duration of the war.

I listened to an interview with Joan Thomas as she talked about writing this novel. She used her own family stories for the bones of the story. First time novelists are always told, “write what you know” and Joan Thomas says she “put it all in a pot and stirred it up”. She did a perfect job, taking the seeds of family stories, and wrote a very excellent first novel.

Joan Thomas is traveling to us from Winnipeg for this reading – don’t miss it!

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